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Auto blogMon, 11 Mar 2013 11:57:00 EST
World's Most Efficient Car Impresses, Not Without Compromises
Among our many duties at the recent Geneva Motor Show, we were offered a pretty exclusive drive in the new Volkswagen XL1 hyper-efficient plug-in diesel hybrid. There is so much that is interesting about a car like this reaching production from a major automaker that it's tough to know where to begin.
First off, you should know that - at least for this generation - there is absolutely no chance in Albuquerque that this "1-liter vehicle" (i.e. a vehicle that can burn just one liter of fuel to travel 100 kilometers, or 62.1 miles) will ever make it into the hands of North American customers. We, too, were having trouble imagining an XL1 in typical American traffic, surrounded by comparatively massive pickups and SUVs. The driving experience had us recalling a couple of weeks in 1999 when we drove the then-revolutionary Honda Insight hybrid on US roads. We keenly remember the feeling of being very small and vulnerable, even as we felt proudly green in our 61-mpg Tochigi pod. Thing is, the Volkswagen is smaller still, and nearly as light despite its more complex drivetrain and safety features.
After years of rumors, development and testing, the Volkswagen XL1 is finally about to become a reality. The project that began life as a daring 1-Liter concept car in 2002, will finally get its production-ready curtain call at the Geneva Motor Show in just a few weeks.
As soon as it hits the streets, the two-seat XL1 will instantly become the most fuel-efficient and most aerodynamic production car in the world. The car uses a plug-in hybrid system to achieve mind-blowing consumption of just 0.9 liters of diesel fuel consumed every 100 kilometers (and average of roughly 261 miles per gallon). Plus, the XL1 can go up to 50 kilometers on its battery power alone. Coefficient of drag is a miniscule 0.189, thanks to a tiny frontal area and an obviously slippery shape.
XL1 power comes from a two-cylinder diesel motor connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, while the 20 kW electric motor is fed by a lithium-ion battery. Both combine to give the XL1 performance figures that are, while not stirring, not shabby considering its extreme frugality: 0-62 miles per hour comes up in 12.7 seconds and top speed is nearly 146 mph.
The Volkswagen brand sold 407,704 cars last year, a 6.95-percent decline compared to 2012, and it's down a further 8.36 percent through the end of April 2014 compared to this time last year. In order to to put the sales football between its Strategy 2018 goal posts, the brand would need to add 100,000 more sales every year to achieve the lofty 800,000-unit target. Coming to grips with how unreasonable that is, VW US CEO Michael Horn has said, "For now, we have to have realistic targets."
The reasons for the brand's slow-down are imprecise, but lots of folks are throwing lots of reasons around. Last November, VW Group Chairman Ferdinand Piech told Bloomberg, "We understand Europe, we understand China and we understand Brazil, [but] we only understand the US to a certain degree so far." Analysts say the brand hasn't had midsize and compact SUV offerings, especially an overdue retail version of the CrossBlue, and the ones it does have are priced too high for their segments. It "didn't introduce enough new engines, or alternative technologies or model variants" for the Passat and Jetta. It devoted so many resources to China that the US market suffered. It was being outspent two-to-one on advertising by competitors. Its J.D. Power dependability ratings aren't high enough to overcome its past. It "has never really taken the US customer seriously." And so on.
There's still no official admission of defeat concerning the target, but reading between the lines there are some VW execs that appear to accept it won't happen short of some deus ex machina. Still,